MLB Prospect Watch: Braves outfielder Cristian Pache could be Atlanta's next homegrown star

When we think about prospects, we tend to dump them into bins. Sometimes it's as simple as starter versus reliever, other times it's more complicated. Because evaluating risk is part of analyzing players, you'll hear or read how some prospects are regarded as "safe." You'll also read or how about "polarizing" prospects, who cause evaluators to fall into camps. Seldom do those labels apply to the same player, but there are exceptions. For example: Cristian Pache.

Pache, 20, could be a member of the Braves outfield next season. He's already in Double-A, where he's enjoying the best offensive season of his professional career. Consider those good signs, as Double-A is often thought of as the page 69 test of pro baseball -- if you like what you see there, it's probably a good sign; if you don't, it's not. 

So, what is it about Pache that allows him to occupy two seemingly conflicting spaces?

The "safe" aspects of Pache's game begin with his athleticism. He's a fast runner with a strong arm. Those traits help make him one of the top defensive outfielders in baseball, be it in the majors, minors, independent ball, whatever. There's a healthy chance he wins a Gold Glove Award someday, and a fair chance he'll win more than one before he hangs them up. And to be clear -- those secondary skills almost ensure he's going to have a lengthy big-league career.

How fruitful Pache's career proves to be hinges on what happens with his bat -- and yes, this is where things get tricky. Throughout his career, he's possessed a walk allergy. That may not be a big deal within itself, but, when combined with his lackluster power production, the duo put a lot of pressure on sustaining a high average in order for him to profile as a passable hitter.

To Pache's credit, he may be in the process of improving those areas of weakness. He's threatening a career-high walk rate, and has shown signs of tapping into his above-average raw power. According to league sources, Pache has increased his launch angle this season. He's also hitting the ball hard, with an average exit velocity in the mid-90s. Of course, you don't need those numbers to realize something has changed -- just look at his home-run total (11), where he's 1) already established a new career-high and 2) has more than doubled his career total.

If these apparent gains hold, Pache has the potential to be a superstar: an impact-level defender who can bat higher than the bottom of the order. If they prove false, or mostly false, he's still going to be a multi-year starter -- just, perhaps, along the lines of a Kevin Pillar type. There's value in either outcome, but one is obviously more desirable -- unless you're a fan of a non-Braves National League East team, that is.

Can a player be safe and risky? Pache and his range of outcomes suggest yes.

Now, onto the Watch.

Prospect watch

A second-round pick in 2018, outfielder Alek Thomas is more than holding his own in A-ball. He could have three plus tools before he's done maturing: hit, run, and field.

Drew Waters is one of Pache's teammates. He's a high-quality prospect himself, and those two, along with Acuna, could form the Braves' outfield for a long time to come.

Teenage left-hander Drew Rom has fanned 85 batters in 69 innings at A-ball. He has the potential for three average or better offerings, with his breaking ball being his breadwinner.

Durbin Feltman is striking out nearly a batter per inning. He's still walking too many, however, and that's what's keeping the quick-moving reliever from reaching the majors.

Riley Thompson has a high-grade heater and doesn't seem remotely challenged by A-ball.

Four of the White Sox's best prospects are out with injuries. It's been that kind of year.

Two of the Reds' top pitching prospects, Tony Santillan and Vladimir Gutierrez, are having rough seasons. Hunter Greene, meanwhile, continues to rehab.

The No. 35 pick in the 2018 draft, Ethan Hankins has easy gas and has fanned 29 batters in 21 innings this season.

Between Ryan Vilade and Terrin Vavra, the Rockies lead the league in interesting shortstop prospects with surnames that start with V. 

Parker Meadows, Detroit's second-round pick in 2018 and the brother of Austin, has plenty of secondary skills. Unfortunately, his bat is being tested so far in A-ball.

Triple-A slugger Taylor Jones is listed at 6-foot-7, so we hope he gets the call at some point for the inevitable pictures of him next to Jose Altuve.

Kevin Merrell, the prospect the Royals received from the A's for Homer Bailey, is a big-time speedster whose bat could prevent him from becoming more than organizational depth.

Jo Adell was one of the stars of the Futures Game batting practice session. He has star potential.

It's not surprising that teams are asking about shortstop Gavin Lux in trade rumors. It would be surprising if the Dodgers moved him.

Jorge Guzman was considered the prized prospect in the Giancarlo Stanton trade. He's allowed more than a walk every other inning, and that lack of control could land him in the bullpen (where he'd likely fair quite well).

It's kind of funny that Shelby Miller and Drew Smyly started the season in the Rangers rotation and will end it (presumably) in the Brewers system. 

Nick Gordon has had a much better second go at Triple-A, and may just be the Twins' second baseman of the future after all.

Tony Dibrell has the chance to become a back-end starter. He's having a nice season in High-A and ought to be promoted before the year ends.

Deivi Garcia is one of the most intriguing prospects in the minors. Depending on how he takes to Triple-A, it's probably not out of the question that he debuts late in the year, or at least early next season.

If there's a such thing as a blocked prospect, Sheldon Neuse might be it. He's having a good season in Triple-A but the A's have nowhere to play him.

Alec Bohm's average and on-base percentage have dropped with his promotion to Double-A, but to his credit he's still hitting the ball hard.

Santiago Florez has a big arm and big frame. He has to smooth the rest of his game, but there's a lot to like there.

Joey Cantillo is a name to watch in San Diego's system. He has plenty of helium and could either shoot up lists or be used as trade bait.

Logan Webb is working his way back from an injury, and that's good news for the Giants system -- he's arguably their top pitching prospect.

Logan Gilbert is making short work of High-A batters. He was the 14th pick in the 2018 draft and looks like he could be a good one.

Nolan Gorman hasn't taken to high-A with aplomb, though it's a small sample and he's still a teenager.

Peter Fairbanks has a big arm, but he's already had multiple arm operations and his delivery suggests he'll have more trouble down the road.

Nick Solak is considered a substandard defender, but he can hit and run and should profile as at least a utility guy.

Bo Bichette should land in the majors any week now.

Reid Schaller has a big-time fastball. He's also walked 11 batters in 15 innings, so don't be surprised if he ends up in the bullpen.
CBS Sports Staff

R.J. Anderson joined CBS Sports in 2016. He previously wrote for Baseball Prospectus, where he contributed to five of the New York Times bestselling annuals. His work has also appeared in Newsweek and... Full Bio

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